People with hearing loss who have been successful in their careers

Posted by jaema @jaema, Dec 27, 2020

Hi -is there someone I can talk to, or read about, who's been successful in their career? I've struggled with hearing loss, and its effects, for 30+ years and because of these experiences, I've come to believe that I would not be able to navigate an employment setting in a way that would be satisfactory to any employer. I also have come to believe that advancement in any career is next to impossible for me to achieve. I've been significantly under-employed my entire life. I'm now receiving vocational rehabilitation services and I'm wondering if I've sold myself short all of these years. I think that if I were to conduct a little research into how other people have managed well in their careers, without being able to hear clearly the people around them, then I might believe that this could be possible for me, too.

First, if I may, what degree of hearing loss must you deal with? It helps me understand your challenges.

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@jaema, do you wear hearing aids at work? Successful is a relative word. Being happy at your job is most important. If you're not happy with what you do, then it makes it hard to go to work everyday. Hearing loss runs in my family and I was diagnosed in 2nd grade with progressive, sensorineural loss. My hearing loss has guided me throughout my career. I'm a retired electrical engineer. My career started as an electronic technician but I switched to engineering when I wanted a more challenging position. I went back to school and had to start over since none of the credits I earned in technical school transferred. It took me 15 years to get an engineering degree because I needed to work and support family. I left one job because it was too noisy and I felt it risked the residual hearing that I had. Perhaps if the hearing aid technology back then did a better job of filtering noise, I may not have switched careers or went back to school. One thing you don't want to do is hide your hearing loss. If people do not know, you are viewed as being aloof or slow and you may be given remedial tasks. People with normal hearing do not understand. We have to advocate for ourselves by letting others know how hearing loss affects us. Hearing loss is very prevalent. Chances are, you'll get a boss that has a family member that has hearing loss. They may understand what it's like. You will need to find ways of making sure you are doing what is needed for your job. For instance, I was part of a team and had to participate in conference calls. I missed a lot of what was said in the room and basically all of what was said on the speaker phone. I would follow up with the project manager to make sure I knew deadline dates for when my tasks needed to be completed. Every job has its own challenges and they will be different. As I mentioned previously, it's most important to be happy with what you do.
Tony in Michigan

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I allowed my progressive hearing loss to cut my teaching career short when I was in my mid-30s. I loved teaching health and physical education, but felt I was being unfair to my students. I had no access to assistive technology then. I was fortunate to be able to become a stay at home mom as my spouse made enough income for us to get by. That was in mid 70s and early 80s when there was no focus on technology other than hearing aids. I discovered, and became involved in the organization that was to become HLAA in 1983. Along with others, I watched the development of assistive technology, including cochlear implants. People with hearing loss/partial deafness, were suddenly recognized as a unique population that needed support and assistance. We were 'in betweeners'; not deaf and not hearing; a totally separate disability group with different needs. Products that could bring clear sound directly to hearing aids started to develop, and become available. I realized, that with technology that went beyond my hearing aids, I could do many things I had thought impossible. I returned to school for a master's degree in human services/counseling. Without that technology, that further education would not have been possible. It also provided me with an opportunity to educate a lot of classmates and professors about the unique needs of hard of hearing people.

In the early 2000s I returned to work full time, and enjoyed another decade of employment. As luck would have it, I was hired for a part time teaching position in a private school that was losing enrollment. After a year there full time, I was hired by an agency that worked with poverty level wage earners who were seeking education that would raise their income and get them out of poverty. I thoroughly enjoyed both jobs. Had I had the opportunity to get the advanced education earlier, I might have geared my ambitions towards management within an agency. However, this all happened when I was in my late 50s, so I was satisfied being a case manager within. Timing is everything.

You are living in times when technology is available, and is also mandated by the American's with Disabilities Act. Communication access is as valid and important as mobility access. You have to know what is available, and self advocate for its availability. Partial deafness is still grossly misunderstood. People tend to think that all people with hearing loss use and need manual communication. This is not true. The large majority of people with hearing loss need technology. Sadly, too many don't know it exists, and even worse, too many won't use it because it's visible.

If we are ashamed of our hearing loss, we broadcast to others that we are lesser people.We should know better. Learn what is available to you. Know what works for you. Educate about it. Advocate for it. You'll be glad you did. I wish you the best. I encourage you to join HLAA. This very special consumer based organization is a great place to learn what is available. http://www.hearingloss.org Vocational Rehabilitation should also be of help. (If they have a hard of hearing specialist/counselor within the agency. Some don't.

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Reply to Jaema: Tony's right. You need to let people know that you don't hear normally. Most will forget much of the time and talk facing away from you or, worse, behind you, but, when you obviously don't hear, they'll remember and come around to talk face to face. Recently, two of the women who volunteer with me had a nice conversation behind me (we were all working, unpacking totes of bread to stuff into freezers). Since I wasn't participating in the conversation I didn't know was happening, one of them realized that, moved closer, and said, "Shoot, Joyce doesn't even know we're talking" and they both came around to apologize. Everyone has learned to really shout if they come into the pantry and I'm back in the freezer room (my car outside is a huge clue).

During the four years long ago when I had crises several times each week where I was forced to lie still and vomit for hours, I was a crew leader for a fisheries data collection project. I started every time by letting them know what to do if I started into a crisis, and that took a lot of the pressure off me. I only started to have a crisis once while out on the river. I sat down on a big boulder, closed my eyes (visuals make things far worse), and concentrated on listening to all the birds sing…and the crisis failed to develop. I like to believe that being outdoors with a host of birds nearby, plus having let everyone know what might happen and what they should do, made it possible for me to skip that crisis almost completely. I failed to warn one of my clients, started to be sick during a meeting, raced out to my car, where I had barf bags, a blanket…all the comforts of home. That led to everyone spending the next few hours worrying about what they should do. I was very lucky that some helpful person didn't call the paramedics!

Hearing loss is invisible. Sure, some people will think it's a bother to deal with speaking so that you can understand, but most will make a real effort to help you. No one will think you're stupid if they know why you don't track conversations well. Many will go out of their way to face you, speak clearly. I think many of us remember the old phrase "deaf and dumb" and fear that everyone will associate HOH with stupidity, but stating the problem clearly and telling people how they can make it possible for you to hear will put that one to rest pretty quickly. Be proactive!

When I first lost all hearing in one ear due to inner ear disease, I was forced to quit being active as an amateur musician. I not only had loss, but recruitment, so playing in an ensemble or orchestra was downright painful, and I knew that I was often not in tune with the group. Because creative people need an outlet, I turned to learning to knit intricate Aran patterns and spending more time painting. There are some things that may be better set aside if they're all uphill battle and very little satisfaction–but they're few and far between. I've read recently about musicians who got CIs and are still playing; technology has really advanced during the past 40 years, and I envy them.

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My husband is deaf in his left ear and it’s so frustrating for him when people who KNOW it talk to him on his left side. He always makes an exaggerated move to turn to his right and offer his right ear (which he is hard of hearing in) to whomever is talking. That is, IF he cares to hear the convo in the first place—he can be a “man.” Lol
All I can say is to continue to tell people, vocalize your condition, and socialize with those people who respect it. The public will not know but they will IF you inform them.
It is not easy and will never get easier.
I step in and repeat phrases of missed conversation IF my husband wishes it.
If any one who has the same issue has someone who can do this for them, it can help but it also can be just as frustrating as my husband has relayed to me. What it will do though is bring others attention to the issue or remind them but not to be a controlling factor for the person who can’t hear well.

Just what we’ve learned over the years. Take it with a grain of salt. Different things for different people.

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@joyces

Reply to Jaema: Tony's right. You need to let people know that you don't hear normally. Most will forget much of the time and talk facing away from you or, worse, behind you, but, when you obviously don't hear, they'll remember and come around to talk face to face. Recently, two of the women who volunteer with me had a nice conversation behind me (we were all working, unpacking totes of bread to stuff into freezers). Since I wasn't participating in the conversation I didn't know was happening, one of them realized that, moved closer, and said, "Shoot, Joyce doesn't even know we're talking" and they both came around to apologize. Everyone has learned to really shout if they come into the pantry and I'm back in the freezer room (my car outside is a huge clue).

During the four years long ago when I had crises several times each week where I was forced to lie still and vomit for hours, I was a crew leader for a fisheries data collection project. I started every time by letting them know what to do if I started into a crisis, and that took a lot of the pressure off me. I only started to have a crisis once while out on the river. I sat down on a big boulder, closed my eyes (visuals make things far worse), and concentrated on listening to all the birds sing…and the crisis failed to develop. I like to believe that being outdoors with a host of birds nearby, plus having let everyone know what might happen and what they should do, made it possible for me to skip that crisis almost completely. I failed to warn one of my clients, started to be sick during a meeting, raced out to my car, where I had barf bags, a blanket…all the comforts of home. That led to everyone spending the next few hours worrying about what they should do. I was very lucky that some helpful person didn't call the paramedics!

Hearing loss is invisible. Sure, some people will think it's a bother to deal with speaking so that you can understand, but most will make a real effort to help you. No one will think you're stupid if they know why you don't track conversations well. Many will go out of their way to face you, speak clearly. I think many of us remember the old phrase "deaf and dumb" and fear that everyone will associate HOH with stupidity, but stating the problem clearly and telling people how they can make it possible for you to hear will put that one to rest pretty quickly. Be proactive!

When I first lost all hearing in one ear due to inner ear disease, I was forced to quit being active as an amateur musician. I not only had loss, but recruitment, so playing in an ensemble or orchestra was downright painful, and I knew that I was often not in tune with the group. Because creative people need an outlet, I turned to learning to knit intricate Aran patterns and spending more time painting. There are some things that may be better set aside if they're all uphill battle and very little satisfaction–but they're few and far between. I've read recently about musicians who got CIs and are still playing; technology has really advanced during the past 40 years, and I envy them.

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You and my husband can be “musical” together. He’s often in “tune” with his own tuning fork when he sing, well, belts out his music. Lol

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@tonyinmi

@jaema, do you wear hearing aids at work? Successful is a relative word. Being happy at your job is most important. If you're not happy with what you do, then it makes it hard to go to work everyday. Hearing loss runs in my family and I was diagnosed in 2nd grade with progressive, sensorineural loss. My hearing loss has guided me throughout my career. I'm a retired electrical engineer. My career started as an electronic technician but I switched to engineering when I wanted a more challenging position. I went back to school and had to start over since none of the credits I earned in technical school transferred. It took me 15 years to get an engineering degree because I needed to work and support family. I left one job because it was too noisy and I felt it risked the residual hearing that I had. Perhaps if the hearing aid technology back then did a better job of filtering noise, I may not have switched careers or went back to school. One thing you don't want to do is hide your hearing loss. If people do not know, you are viewed as being aloof or slow and you may be given remedial tasks. People with normal hearing do not understand. We have to advocate for ourselves by letting others know how hearing loss affects us. Hearing loss is very prevalent. Chances are, you'll get a boss that has a family member that has hearing loss. They may understand what it's like. You will need to find ways of making sure you are doing what is needed for your job. For instance, I was part of a team and had to participate in conference calls. I missed a lot of what was said in the room and basically all of what was said on the speaker phone. I would follow up with the project manager to make sure I knew deadline dates for when my tasks needed to be completed. Every job has its own challenges and they will be different. As I mentioned previously, it's most important to be happy with what you do.
Tony in Michigan

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Before my husband, James became disabled due to his broken down body, he was a successful electrician for years (12 yrs) and then went back to school and received an Associate degree in Secondary Education. He was a successful high school football coach and middle school wrestling coach, elementary school teacher assistant and USA Wrestling official including for Olympic Qualifiers, and detention coordinator.
Being successful as a partially deaf person is possible. It takes work and determination… energy.

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@jaema Certainly, one can be "successful"… with hearing loss… My left ear is profoundly deaf.. and the right grew progressively worse over the years.. The hearing loss was not limiting the first decade or so … as I would not even admit that it existed… I finish my architectural Bachelor's degree, got a Master's, and a Ph.D. …practiced Architecture for 20 years across the NE quadrant of the US.. then Taught at Universities for another 20… I learned coping skills .. I taught a lot of Lab courses where I was right next to the student.. I would go into the class sitting area to listen to questions.. getting with in 6 feet of the questioning person… then tell them to speak up so the class could hear them … Certainly, my wife accused me of having selective hearing but she encouraged me along the way to get help…. I retired at 63…that was 20 years ago.. I have traveled the world and the US.. I do depend on Closed Captioning a lot.. but then I listen to Audio Books as I drive alone… Enjoy Living…. I was in the Service so the VA now keeps my Hearing Aids working… and up to date… Ken

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Education gives one options and getting that education at major Universities where they took major steps to facilitate those with handicaps…… Ken

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reply to Faith Walker: There are many times when I cannot even listen to music, due to the recruitment provided by the "Meniere's Monster." Any loud, sharp sound just tears through my head, creates pain. I've replaced playing music with other creative pursuits; my job is graphic design, primarily of books and publications, so that's a pretty satisfying creative outlet. During the years of the initial big problems with this dreadful disease (when I lost hearing/balance in my right ear), I managed a small publishing company. In spite of frequent crises, I never missed a deadline during those four years. When the publisher's kids got old enough, they began to work for the company, always in supervisory roles, so my job ended. I started my own design/marketing business, specializing in the sport fishing industry, and still have clients and work at 78. I just started a huge book project that will probably take around five years to complete; right now, I'm slmply editing all the copy. Photo work and placement will take a long time, as each photo must be in exactly the right spot for it.

Over the decades, I've also sat on many advisory committees for fish and the environment and have managed to overcome the challenge of understanding the conversation, in spite of, first, age-related loss in my "good" left ear, and, more recently, an invasion of the Meniere's monster when I went bilateral. For a year, I was nearly totally deaf, but got on a good program of hormone replacement last May…and the level of hearing I had had in my "good" ear returned within two weeks. Because the hormones also ended much of the recruitment problem, I'm going to try using an aid in my long-useless right ear sometime soon…difficult to get an appt. with Covid. Although I have some slight residual hearing in that ear, it has been considered impossible to aid due to recruitment, just as it was impossible for me to wear the aid in my "good" left ear when it also had recruitment. I have considered a CI for my right ear, but am hesitant to do anything that's not reversible. If an aid works for that ear, I'll be excited to hear more normally for the first time in 40 years!

With all the advances in aids and accessories, plus CIs, there no reason for anyone to not have a normal life, normal job in spite of hearing loss.

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Hi, I have had hearing impairment all my life . L: severely impaired and R: profoundly impaired. As a child my parents got me an aid for my right ear only. At elementary school a Speech and Language specialist came to teach me to read lips. School was a struggle – I believe my speech recognition scores were in the 60-70% range. I persevered and got a BSc in Chemistry and studied French literature for one year at a university in France. I am an amateur musician and we've been trying to keep our band up using SmartMusic – not totally successful for me, but still fun

I have had many careers – I call myself a cat with 9 lives and I'm on my third cat :). I speak fluent French and some Spanish and Italian. My latest career I implement and train clients in Business Software focusing on companies with Manufacturing. I've been a bench Chemist, run an electronics manufacturing production floor, run Medical Devices production, Logistics, Purchasing., been a Quality Manager in Pharma, run a large warehouse and lately been in IT for many years. Hearing technology has changed my life. I now have 2 Widex hearing aids and my speech recognition is up to 90%. Adding my left ear to the hearing world as an adult, I had recruitment issues at first but got used to that. Hearing thro 2 ears was fabulous. Using an external Mic in a meeting situation is helpful. But usually, I have to let people know that I read lips to understand them and they let me watch them speak as well as hear them. We need to let people know how to help us. Side conversations are really tricky, and unfortunately I miss those frequently. What is particularly useful is getting sound directly to my aids – both phone and laptop as I mostly do remote training now and meetings with clients. Microsoft Teams has closed captions for English only at the moment.

It is possible to do many things, one needs to work with people around you, generally they want to be helpful. Let them know what you need and do use the latest technologies that work best for you. There is a lot of conversation here about captions and neck loops – both essential these days for me. Also, getting a Hearing Aid specialist to adjust the sound to match YOUR hearing needs (not just the theoretical – which is a good baseline) – go back to get them adjusted as best you can. But it is possible to do many things even with our impairment. Good luck and don't give up.

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@faithwalker007

First, if I may, what degree of hearing loss must you deal with? It helps me understand your challenges.

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My R ear is between mild to moderate, mostly. My L ear is more in the moderate to moderate/severe range. At 8000Hz, my ears drop to severe and profound, respectively. I have had mostly conductive hearing loss all of my life with sensorineural hearing loss creeping in as I age. Because hearing aids are designed to manage sound so much, I understand speech better without them.

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